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BYU–Hawaii: A Centennial Celebration to Commemorate David O. McKay’s 1921 Vision

On November 11, 2021, over 200 people gathered for a special centennial celebration at BYU–Hawaii to commemorate Elder David O. McKay’s inspiring vision during his visit to the island on February 7, 1921. Posters displaying early photographs recounted the story of those early years and President McKay’s prophetic vision that “God has had His hand over this entire valley and from this school [BYU–Hawaii] … will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally.” Attendees viewed early images that included the flag raising ceremony at the elementary school in 1921, where President McKay observed 127 children from various cultures and backgrounds (e.g. Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, and others) coming together as one. He later wrote, “That ceremony brought tears to my eyes. Truly the melting pot. … [and] an example in this little place of the purposes of our Father in Heaven to unite all people by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

David O. McKay mural in front of the McKay Complex depicting Elder David O. McKay observing a flag-raising ceremony with a culturally diverse set of school children in Hawaii.

During the centennial celebration, students from various countries and nations in Asia and the Pacific, participated in this commemoration. After a special musical number by the BYU–Hawaii Concert Choir, Aaron Shumway, director of religious education at BYU–Hawaii, spoke of President McKay’s vision in 1921 and invited those attending to consider and write down how his prophetic vision has blessed each of their lives. Francis Sharma, a student from Fiji, spoke about how her own life, as well as the lives of other Pacific islanders, have been blessed by this vision. It was during this 1921 historic visit that President McKay envisioned “the possibilities of making this [a church school] … the center of the education of the people of these islands.”

A choir stands in the choir loft of the BYUH Stake Center with a full audience.

Isaiah Walker, BYU–Hawaii’s Academic Vice President, talked about President McKay’s vision of unity in diversity in 1921, which was put on hold for a season until it was fulfilled 34 years later when the Church College of Hawaii (later renamed BYU–Hawaii) opened its doors in 1955. Walker shared the story of Ethel Helani Whitford Almodova, who was the first director of registrar for then the Church College of Hawaii in 1954. Walker noted that 1954 was the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark decision on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling against racial segregation in schools. Almodova was given only two months to recruit 150 new students to start their studies in 1955, working diligently to successfully enroll 153 students that first year. Walker noted that like Almodova, others have come from various cultures and countries to serve and be part of the continuing fulfillment of this prophetic vision received 100 years ago by an apostle and prophet of God.

A bard with "How Has President McKay's vision blessed your life?" at the center with colorful post it notes and written responses to the prompt surrounding the question.

Afterwards, many students wrote and posted their responses to the following question, “How has President McKay’s vision blessed your life?” They had the opportunity to appreciate President McKay’s remarkable vision, remember their role in furthering the mission of BYU–Hawaii, and reflect on their responsibility in the continued fulfillment of this prophetic vision to bless God’s children throughout the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Today, BYU–Hawaii enrolls over 3,000 students from over 70 different countries and cultures from the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. mainland, and other parts of the world. Since President McKay’s vision, 100 years ago, thousands of students have enrolled and graduated from BYU–Hawaii, and have gone forth to serve and share the peace of the gospel throughout the world.